FP224 release, © Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission

Bright Skies and Bright Hope for Florida Panthers in the Wild

Last May was not a particularly good month for a young female Florida panther near Naples, Florida. On May 12, a resident of the Golden Gate Estates area of town called authorities to report having seen a limping panther on his property. Biologists from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) were called to the home the following morning because the panther had not left the area and was not moving – a sure sign she was injured and in distress. When biologists located the panther, she was sheltered in the remains of a fallen cypress tree among branches and vines, unable to move. Biologists assessed the situation and carefully approached the panther, anesthetizing her as she lay resting so they could examine her and determine the extent of her injuries.

Injured panther, © Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission

FWC biologists found the injured panther taking shelter in the brush.

At the site, a veterinarian working with the Commission determined that at the very least, the cat had a badly injured right rear leg and other potentially dangerous wounds. After transporting her to a local emergency veterinary practice, doctors there determined that the panther had likely been hit by a vehicle and was not only suffering from a broken right femur, but also had rib fractures and bruises around her lungs. She was given immediate emergency surgery to repair the injury to her femur and once stable, was transported to White Oak Conservation Center in north Florida for recovery, with hopes that she would one day be returned to the wild.

At the time she was brought to the rehab facility, the 57-pound female was fitted with a radio collar, which would give FWC important data about her movements in the wild.  Radio-tracking data have been used to determine characteristics of habitat used by panthers and to document range expansion. They also help biologists locate dens and monitor kittens. When a panther hasn’t moved for a while the collar emits a signal that alerts biologists that the cat may be injured or dead, so that biologists can help the animal or determine cause of death.  FWC began collaring panthers in 1981, and data from radio-telemetry studies have been vital in identifying important habitat areas and travel corridors to guide land protection decisions. They can also help pinpoint dangerous road segments in need of reduced nighttime speed limits and wildlife underpasses.

FP224, © Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission

The injured Florida panther recovered at a rehab facility until she could be released.

The young panther was also given the identity ‘FP224’, meaning she was the 224th Florida panther to be under ongoing study and monitoring by the FWC. FP224 was estimated to be 8 to 9 months old and was otherwise in good health, but probably not old enough to be on her own. It was planned that she would remain in rehabilitation for several months so she could heal and grow to an age and size where she would be able to survive on her own in the wild.

For the next 9 months, FP224 remained in rehabilitation, growing into a healthy sub-adult panther, and in February 2014 plans were begun to release her back into the wild. Through much work on the part of FWC, White Oak and others, an initial date of March 5 was planned for her release. But not surprisingly, just like most cats, FP224 had plans of her own and avoided being removed from her rehabilitation area for several days, keeping journalists,  dignitaries and agency invitees hoping to attend the release on a day-to-day roller coaster ride of anticipation.

Finally, on the morning of March 10, we all received word that the release was on! By late morning we’d been sent instructions on how to find the release site, located on private lands just north of the Big Cypress National Preserve and west of the Seminole Indian Reservation, or in the minds of your average south Florida resident, “in the middle of nowhere.”  However, in the minds of those of us who are passionate about the future of our precious wildlife, the release site might as well have been the middle of heaven.

So, on a beautiful late winter afternoon under a crystal-clear and brilliant blue sky, we all stood in a cow pasture surrounded by cypress and pine forests waiting for the arrival of FP224. We watched in awe as a white van pulled into an adjacent field and the crate holding FP224 was placed on the ground with the door facing the woods. In attendance were television and newspaper reporters from as far away as Key West, Naples and Miami, FWC Commissioner ‘Alligator Ron’ Bergeron, representatives of the FWC, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Defenders of Wildlife.

Panther release, © Bunny Fleming

FP224 wasn’t happy at first, but she soon realized what the open crate meant.

So again, I had the opportunity to witness one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring events of my life. As we all watched, the hatch to FP224’s crate was lifted and she opened her mouth and hissed, clearly uncertain of what was happening. But in the next moments, her eyes adjusted to the light, she moved closer to the doorway of her crate, peeked out, and then made a move out of her crate to the left, where she immediately saw people… so she turned back in the direction her crate had been aimed at in the first place and promptly bounded back into the wild lands of south Florida. Sporting a bright pink and green radio collar and brightly colored ear tags (both of which will allow biologists to easily identify her in images from wildlife cameras) she was truly a sight to behold.

The whole experience of her actual release lasted less than one minute from the moment her crate was opened until she disappeared into the woods. She actually stayed in the crate until 40 seconds had passed, which means her dash into freedom lasted roughly 15 seconds for those of us watching. But for her, those 15 seconds will hopefully lead to a long life, lots of healthy kittens, and a better future for Florida panthers in the wild, where they belong.

Panther release, © Lisa Östberg

FP224 makes a dash for freedom!

Lisa Östberg, Southwest Florida Coexistence Coordinator

63 Responses to “Bright Skies and Bright Hope for Florida Panthers in the Wild”

  1. Bob Deacy

    Beyond Joyful! What a Beauty!! Thanks so much for giving her a second chance!

    Reply
  2. Cynthia Merkey

    I sincerely hope that these animals survive against all odds and will be around for future generations, just like the gators.

    Reply
  3. Flor del Carmen Padilla

    The best of this nice story is: a better future for Florida panthers in the wild, where they belong. Thanks to DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE. Congratulations to all of you.

    Reply
  4. Stephanie

    Does anyone know when Florida panthers where found and around how many were there initially? (before being listed as endangered)

    Reply
  5. Matt Nicholas

    Great stuff!! Well done all involved — she’s definitely a looker.

    Reply
  6. Tyler Durden

    There are thousands of these panthers in Texas, the exact same animal. They are not endangered, stop donating money and giving the government excuses to take more land.

    Reply
  7. hi

    thats a wonderful ending who could hit a panther and not stop or contact someone that monster

    Reply
  8. myia loback

    i beg your pardon Tyler Durden
    thats not true every animal counts not oh theres a ton more of them out there we are here to protect the animals and that we need to do what ever we can to save them !!

    Reply
  9. Tina Henize

    The commenter Durden stating his opinion about TX panthers is ignorant and he obviously has an anti-conservation agenda. And it’s not TAKING land, it’s CONSERVING it for every being and re-establishing some semblance of balance to ecosystems. It’s destructive fools like him who are the reason for the mess.

    Reply
  10. frans keulemans

    some humans are so ignorant and think that this planet only belongs to them. long before this so called humans killed millions in all kinds of wars religion or not.this planet was in a good shape. an animal only kills what he needs for food looks at humans they never have enough on their off shore bank accounts and are willing to kill to get more. animals do not make guns and start wars. if humans go on like this. this planet will be destroyed and and like millions of years of ago there will be hopeful a fresh start

    Reply
  11. Burdel Horner

    Such beauty must be cared for! Natures own take only what they need for survival and yet humans take away that very need. Thanks to all for your undying commitments to our worldly treasures!

    Reply
  12. Jane Heltebrake

    So many thanks to your organization for caring for this precious Panther. Providing excellent medical work, is so very important. May this beauty remain safe.

    Reply
  13. Cindy Rapoport

    Tyler Durden very ignorant comment for you to make! Please know what you are commenting on before you do so! I have lived I’m Florida my whole life and the Florida Panther is losing all of his natural habitat . Did you understand what I just said Florida Panther! I am sure you just didn’t understand what you were reading.

    Reply
  14. Sylvia Zade-Routier

    What a beautiful action for this beautiful cat! May she live long and happy in HER environment.
    Thanks to the team of Defenders of Wildlife, you did a great job.
    If I weren’t living in Europe, I’d be a volunteer, too!
    Sylvia

    Reply
  15. Pat

    So happy for that panther. And congrats to everyone that helped her. It’s good to know that people are still trying to do what’s right & save them. They are beautiful creatures & should be allowed to live & enjoy themselves, just like other Floridians!

    Reply
  16. Janet Robinson

    Nice to see one released, great job by all involved.

    Tyler – they are not the same animal. They are subspecies and are endangered. Of course, the biggest danger to any wildlife is humans and human expansion and overpopulation.

    I am concerned about the radio collar. What happens as the panther grows older? I’m wondering how it will continue to fit and whether it can tether a cat in the wild. You would think by now they would have tiny, little collars rather than that large thing.

    Reply
  17. Sue Solender

    Thank you for the lovely story and I add my congrat’s to FWC and the U.S. Fish & Wild Game people for taking good care of her from discovery to release into the wild. Hopefully, she will live out her years there in good health and produce healthy descendants.

    Reply
  18. Carletta Griffiths

    Such a beautiful animal. Thank you for not only helping her but allowing her to be free.

    Reply
  19. cindy

    tyler , i’m not sure what planet your from but the people who are able to donate are passionate about these animals as i am . donations have nothing to do with the government and everything to do with the animals themselves . the problem wth government is that they are a bunch of greedy,self serving,career policitions that will not listen to american people in their quest to rid the country of any animal that will hamper the way of being the biggest oil producing nation in the world . really tyler, you need to read between the lines and do some research on our government as it is today .

    Reply
  20. Jody Coletta

    A breathtaking moment. A miracle that this panther was found and cared for as she/he was. I found the photo that followed the story of her bounding out of her crate to the freedom she was born into and deserving to enjoy so moving that it literally took my breath away for a moment. I can’t begin to imagine experiencing that moment in person. In the wild..I mostly focus on the plight of the Grey and Red wolves thanks to generous work and sharing of information of “Defenders of Wildlife”who I am happy to see were involved in this rescue and rehabilitation. That being said..the concerns I am aware of also include elephants far away. I live in Florida (only three years now) and had little awareness of the panther life here. Thanks to this article.. I can now extend my interests about animal rights in my own backyard as well. Thank you all for doing such wonderful work . I start this day feeling very good. Be well…one and all..

    Reply
  21. Deana Walker

    MY EYES ARE FILLED WIRH TEARS JOY AND APPRECIATION!!!!MY HEART FILLED WITH LOVE AND COMPASSION …PROTECT AND LOVE OUR WILDLIFE OUR PEOPLE AND OUR PLANET and univers!!!….And TO YOU TYLER DUUUURDEN…APPROPRIATE NAME…BREATH AND LIVE IN THE HATRED FILLED IGNORANT HELL YOU HAVE CREATED … No need to wait to DIE to wonder what hell is …..you are living it DEMON!!!!!

    Reply
  22. Sharon Baron

    I would feel blessed if I ever saw one in the wild. Probably bring me to tears.

    Reply
  23. Marlon Zmuda

    Thanks to groups such as yours…….Wildlife has a chance to survive when our government is trying to make many species almost extinct.

    Reply
  24. Rosanna

    What a great story to wake up to! I have such a passion for big cats and it is great to see this beauty being released back into a world in which she belongs.

    Reply
  25. Jeff Holstein

    A beautiful story! We have approximately 100 panthers left in Florida (at this time). Preventing auto injuries needs to be a priority. Efforts such as the building of tunnels beneath roads are encouraging, and need to be expanded so all our Wildlife can safely cross high traffic roads.

    Reply
  26. Randall Beatty

    Hello
    God Bless all of you there it is great to see how much you care about the panthers it is a bright future for them, now I hope other states take care of there animals like you do.

    Reply
  27. JOLLYJIM

    1st – TO TYLER. ALL ANIMALS ARE ENDANGERED BECAUSE MANKIND, (like you Tyler) ARE THE KING OF BEASTS AND THE BRUTALITY FAR EXCEEDS ANY ANIMAL’S AND IT’S NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF WHICH I THINK YOUR THINKING. IF MANKIND CAN’T GET ALONG WITH ANIMALS, HE CAN’T GET ALONG WITH HIMSELF (all the wars prove that).
    2nd – I’M GLAD TO READ THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT OUR WILDLIFE AND ARE WILLING TO HELP THEM.
    3rd – HIP HIP HORRAY FOR THE PANTHER – HOPE SHE PRODUCES MANY MORE.

    Reply
  28. Nikki S.

    I absolutely love reading stories like this one. They are too few and far between. Our precious animals deserve so much more than they are often given, so I applaud the efforts of everyone involved with this case. From the scientists to the release spectators, wonderful scenes like this one could never happen without you.

    Reply
  29. Stuart Berdy

    After reading this article I was glad that this panther was released into the wild. I would like to thank the rehab facility for rehabbing her Stuart Berdy

    Reply
  30. Mary Anne Braley

    This is absolutely wonderful! Thanks for helping these animals LIVE! I think it is so fabulous that this organization works to help preserve our wildlife.

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  31. Richard Lindelof

    The “bright skies” aren’t all that bright if you consider that so far in 2014 we have lost 14 panthers here in Florida, 11 of them hit by vehicles. With an estimated population of just over 160 panthers total that represents approximately 11.5% of the population has died and we’re only halfway through April. While she is a beauty and the panther kitten up in Tampa is adorable, There are no “bright skies” until we see regular increases in the population.

    Reply
  32. Joyce Walker

    What a beautiful happening compared to what is happening in Idaho to the grey wolf. I’m proud of Florida!!!

    Reply
  33. D. L. Lewis

    Mr. Durden is completely wrong. The Texas cougar is not the same animal as the Florida panther; they are rather like cousins–related but not the same.
    I love the way that anti-environmental people can always be relied upon to make completely uninformed statements that reveal the level of their intelligence.

    Reply
  34. George Alonso

    Wonderful! Each one of these magnificent big cats is precious! I hope humans could stop hurting animals and other humans! God bless the ones who protect animals in our nation and all over the world!

    Reply
  35. B. Hoyt

    This is really a wonderful thing. But still too many of these wonderful creatures are being killed by “speeding” cars on that highway that crosses the Everglades. The speed limit on that H’way is 70 mph but it should only be 60mph or 55mph. Most of the cars are doing 80-85mph and this is why so many of these panthers are still being run over, especially at night time. There has to be tunnels under the road or narrow bridges over the roads for them to use. That way they would not get hit and killed.

    Reply
  36. Chuck

    The Florida Panther was a separate genetic strain. However, in order to help preserve the integrity of population to prevent inbreeding(which was already happening) eight females from Texas were brought in to the area which has lead to an increase in the population,

    Reply
  37. stew schrauger

    Thanks to all the people involved in this panther’s rescue and rehab. May your dedicated work be paid back 100,000,000,000 fold so that ALL wildlife will be protected and allowed to flourish and strengthen the eco-systems and be able to continue to enhance all of our lives.

    And a reply to Tyler Durden: Spoken like a true (misinformed and unfairly biased) Texan.

    Reply
  38. Frank Leonard.

    The best thing I seen & heard in my 78yrs. Let”s hope the Pyhon problem does”n louse things up..

    Reply
  39. Steve Miller

    No Tyler these are not the exact same animal. Your paranoid thoughts that it is about money is sickening. An animal from the Texas desert wasteland is not an animal that would survive in a swamp land. We could try putting you in the swamp and see how you do.. To bad people like you don’t care about much. It is Sad.

    Reply
  40. Cheryle

    Thanks for the beautiful update on this animal. So happy to know that at least in the state of Florida, we are doing our best to preserve this amazing species, which needs plenty of space to survive.

    Reply
  41. Eric

    I think Tyler needs to do a little more research before making any more comments. If we, as a nation, should do anything regarding preservation of our wild flora and fauna, it should be to INCREASE funding for conservation of land and wildlife!

    Reply

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